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One of the greatest missed opportunities of the Conference was the Barbados Declaration, irreverently referred to by some participants as the "Barbados Whimper." Originally intended as a statement of political will to accompany the Programme of Action in order for SIDS and their concerns to stay at or near the top of the international agenda, the Declaration is in fact little more than a glorified UN resolution. Due to the unstinting efforts of a handful of delegates and NGOs, the Declaration is considerably better than the original drafts presented at both the resumed PrepCom and the Conference itself.

The drafting process was tightly controlled by the Barbadian hosts. It often appeared as though the Chair of the negotiations of this document, Barbados' Ambassador to the United Nations, Besley Maycock, wanted to receive input from other delegations, but draft the document himself. At a press conference following the conclusion of the drafting, he lamented the fact that the "UN approach crept in from time to time," and he seemed to blame his disappointment with the Declaration on the fact that "most developed countries were not represented at a very high level" and that "delegates were here to see that no new language creeps in." The Declaration also suffered from a lack of a cogent sense of what was desired or required and from an embarrassing lack of attention from a number of key players. This is exemplified by Australia's lone OECD stance on issues of partnership with NGOs and gender equity in development, the US ignorance of issues such as the right to development and ecological corridors, and the scarcity of seasoned drafters and negotiators among those few delegations -- developed and developing -- who participated in the three days of contact group meetings.

While many comments were made about the lack of strong vision coming from the Chair and his lack of facilitation, it was also true that those delegations who bothered to participate in the drafting were not particularly inspired either, with one or two notable exceptions. The UNCED experience taught us that leaving discussion of principles or political statements to the end is a risk. It is never the straightforward task that the host country always hopes for domestic political reasons. Leaving the drafting of the Barbados Declaration to the last moment was naive at best. [Return to start of article]